What if? Two little words with so much potential. It’s the “what ifs” of the world that allow us to break out of the box, consider new ideas and new ways of doing things. And, in a constantly growing city like Greenville, considering “what if” is a must if we want to continue positive growth and enhancement of our quality of life. The problem is and always has been this: a great idea can come from anywhere, but not everyone has the means to give life to the idea. So what happens to these flashes of brilliance? Do they simply fade under a lack of resources? What a shame for any idea to never be given a platform, to be considered, to be discussed.
What If Greenville was born out of this need – a need to hear the voice of the community and the desires of those who live here.
The website is the product of Adam Gautsch’s commitment to the betterment of Greenville. A Clemson graduate with a degree in political science, Gautsch worked briefly in politics before he and a friend launched Orangecoat, a web design company focused on helping entrepreneurs start companies and guiding established companies’ web strategies. With a focus on building products useful for the community, the development of What If Greenville was a natural continuation of this desire. Gautsch read an article in the New York Times about a website collecting ideas that had been implemented in New York and Chicago and thought, “What if Greenville had something like this?” He approached then-Greenville Forward Administrator Bock Koonce, and they brainstormed the implications of such a website and collaborated on putting something together.
What If Greenville, an idea collection site that allows users to submit community ideas in 99 characters or less, went live in August 2011. The initial reaction was very positive, receiving up to 600 ideas in one day after a launch party. Another spike in interest occurred after Gautsch hosted a booth at the TEDx Greenville event. “It was essential to put the website in front of as many people as possible, and TEDx was a terrific opportunity to gain exposure to people who were already thinking ‘outside the box,’” says Gautsch.
“The idea behind What If Greenville is revolutionary because it not only encourages everyone to dream big for our city but it gives them a forum to quickly and easily share those ideas with others,” says Elizabeth Ramos, a graphic designer and blogger at www.elizabethramos.com. “What If Greenville is important because it’s built solely from community-sourced ideas. It taps into the love people have for our city and the mutual desire we have to make it even better.”
Gautsch says the website embraces the idea that “two heads are better than one,” or, in this case, the thoughts of the entire community. “The more good ideas being tossed around the better,” he says. “There is such awesome potential within the community to develop new ways of engaging and improving the quality of life. Different people of diverse backgrounds can produce a vast amount of ideas, and there lies the potential to uncover concepts that may never have been considered before.”
“When you think about it, What If Greenville is also an amazing resource. Whether you’re a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, or a city planner, it’s easy to visit the site and find out what people are asking for in Greenville,” says Ramos.
Submitted ideas are displayed on the site’s main page and cover topics from social events to transportation needs to safety concerns. These are just a few examples of submissions that were given for Greenville to contemplate:
Citizens have asked “What If Greenville:”
· Had first aid stations along the Swamp Rabbit Trail?
· Had a high speed rail from Charlotte to Greenville to Clemson to Atlanta?
· Had a cable car traveling from the West End to the North Mnd, giving riders a full view of downtown?
· Hosted a fashion week?
· Had an arts co-op where large presses, supplies and equipment were available for members to use?
· Encouraged community events like social dances? A great way to meet new people!
Currently, Gautsch says the site receives several ideas per week, but he’d like to take the site to the next level in 2013, ramping up interest and participation community-wide.
“We have considered enabling the ideas submitted to the site to be searched and sorted by category to make it more user-friendly and to more easily connect specific ideas with relevant people. We’ve also discussed establishing accounts where ideas could be shared through social media outlets, expanding the reach and visibility of the site,” says Gautsch. “What does it all look like? I don’t know at this point, but that’s something we’ll be considering in 2013.”
One thing Gautsch says is of utmost importance is better publicizing ideas and driving traffic to the website, possibly through op-ed pieces, digital outlets, blogs, social media, and other sources. “The people we’ve talked to love the idea of the site, but they don’t always remember it,” says Gautsch. “We need to find ways to stay in front of the community and enable them to freely express their ideas on the site. Our hope is to be a facilitator, taking ideas and putting them in front of people who can help makes things happen.”